Batman: The Animated Series, “Beware The Gray Ghost

24Feb11

So “The Cat and the Claw” was rather boring. “See No Evil” was unexpectedly good. And “Beware The Grey Ghost” is….odd. It’s almost a like a nostalgia trip for Batman viewed from the outside. I don’t think it would be fair to say it’s bad-it’s not. But the story structure is off, characters act oddly, and there’s a troubling undercurrent of “fans are nuts” to the whole thing.

The episode actually starts with a fairly clever conceit, of the opening credits and initial action for an episode of “The Gray Ghost.” it instantly gives us both the tone for the show and an indication of its connection to Batman itself, as a young Bruce Wayne watches and his father reads the newspaper behind him. Then it cuts to the “real” world, and Batman watches as a building is blown up near his rooftop location. Unfortunately, this is where the conceit gets less clever, as it cuts back to the Gray Ghost, then back to Batman…and back and forth again. Fortunately, that’s the end of that device, but it’s still a good example of the basic problem this episode has-interesting ideas that aren’t framed as well as they could be.

Eventually, Batman is able to track down the actor who played the Gray Ghost, even if he can’t find a copy of the show to watch for clues. We then see the actor in desperate straits, raging against the typecasting that has kept him from working for years, before he sells off his remaining memorabilia to survive. And then he wakes up…and it’s all been returned to his apartment, along with a note on where he should show up. Of course, it’s Batman who did this, as he’s the one who shows up to meet Simon Trent, causing Trent to run.

It’s an interesting but odd situation all around-why would Batman buy all the merchandise and then return it? Why does Trent run away when Batman says he needs his help? Then, after breaking into Trent’s apartment and scaring him on the street, Batman berates Trent for not living up to a fictional character’s standards. It’s not badly out of character, but it’s still off. Finally, the method for the bombings is revealed-and this is probably the part that works best about the episode. Little remote control cars filled with explosives might be silly, but it’s also rather threatening-how do you tell them apart from all the normal remote controlled toys?

Batman and the police stop the next bombing. Then Batman is saved by Simon Trent in his Gray Ghost costume, who knew to be there because…well…because the writers wanted him to save Batman, that’s why. It’s also the reasoning behind Batman bringing Trent into the Batcave, where we’re told the Batcave is almost identical to the Gray Ghost’s old lair. After initially accusing Trent himself of setting the bombs, we learn it was actually the toy store owner Trent has been selling his old Gray Ghost merchandise to. He was inspired by the old Gray Ghost episode, to make up for all of the money he spends on toys-a rather strange idea, since earlier we were told all of the negatives were lost 20 years ago. Then he tries to use the remote control car bombs to defeat Batman in the toy shop, yet he bemoans the loss of all his toys when the bombs actually blow up inside the building.

As I said, it’s a strange episode. Probably one of the best elements of the show is actually Adam West’s performance as the Gray Ghost, and I think that helps it hang together better than it would have with a weaker performance….but it’s still a very strange plot. There’s a strong core to it, but a few more editorial passes would probably have tightened in into a much better episode. The whole thing is entertaining enough, though. So while it’s not one of the better TAS episodes, it’s worth watching once.

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